Grim Reaper Edition

Grim Reaper Edition

The best live shows, audiobooks and Eric's funeral playlist: it's all inside today's Altercation.


My most recent Nation column is called “Race Matters (but Not To Conservatives)” and in it, I give up on the “class over race” argument I’ve been making for, like, twenty years.

Here’s an interview I filmed yesterday with Labor Press on de Blasio and inequality in front of my apartment. It was a little cold for no jacket but decidedly “atmospheric” as we are both blowing in the wind…

And here, Katrina, Kai and I discuss the Nation’s 150th Anniversary issue.


I’ll be out and about soon. Here is where:

1) Symposium on tackling economic inequality at New York Law School on April 17, 2015 (morning roundtable, 9:15 am)

2) The Martin Luther King Social Justice Awards Dinner, (evening) TWU headquarters, Brooklyn, April 17, evening (and it’s a benefit).

3) New York City Green Festival, April 26, Javits Center, Main Stage, 12:30 pm.

4) Social Research Conference: Sanctions and Divestments: Economic Weapons for Political and Social Change, New School, May 1, 10:00 am.

The Lists:

I’ve got one list left in the kitty. It’s my funeral playlist and it had better be played if anyone wants to inherit anything, if you get my meaning. It’s remained remarkably stable over the past ten years. Feel free to borrow it for yours:

Before the service:

Bruce Springsteen, “The Fever,” from Winterland, 1978.

The Allman Brothers Band, “One Way Out,” from Eat A Peach.

Willie Nelson and Julio Iglesias, “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before,” from One Hell of a Ride, disc 3.

Dylan, Clapton, Harrison, Young, McGuin, Petty: “My Back Pages,” from the Dylan 30ththanniversary concert celebration.

Played low during the service:

Van Morrison, The Band, Roger Waters’ “Comfortably Numb,” from The Wall—Live in Berlin.

Eric Clapton with the Allman Brothers “Why Does Love Got to be So Sad?” Beacon Theater, March 20, 2009.

Grateful Dead, “Franklin’s Tower” from Road Trips, Volume 4, No. 5, (Boston Music Hall, 1976)

John Coltrane, “My Favorite Things,” from the complete Atlantic recordings, disc 4, (but it can be stopped if the service is over…)

Following the End of the Service:

Elvis Presley, “A Little Less Conversation,” JXL remixed version.

Leonard Cohen, “Closing Time,” from Live in London

Allman Brothers Band, “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More,” from Eat A Peach.

The Clash, “I Fought the Law,” studio version, The Clash Hits Back


1) Lena Hall at the Café Carlyle.

2) Pompie’s Place at Don’t Tell Mama

3) David Bromberg and Larry Campbell at the Roulette Theater

4) Recent Publications of the Library of America

5) A whole bunch of recent audio books to which I’ve listened.

Lena Hall at the Café Carlyle

I never heard of Lena Hall before seeing her show at the Carlyle. (I never saw Hedwig and the Angry Inch and was only vaguely aware she had won a Tony for it.) But I’ve seen Buster Poindexter and Debbie Harry in the room of late and so I was almost prepared for the shock of hearing “Dazed and Confused” in the house that Bobby Short built. Ms. Hall was suffering from bronchitis, but proved more than game in putting her stamp on songs on classics like “Psycho Killer,” “Can’t Find My Way Home,” and a wonderful “Maybe I’m Amazed.” Backed up by a fine band led by Watt White on guitar, with John Deley on keyboards, Lee Nadel on bass and Brian Fishler on drums. The show also featured songs, mainly b-sides and deep cuts, by Jack White, Tori Amos, the Meat Puppets (by way of Nirvana) Queen, Elton John, David Bowie, Hozier, Erykah Badu and someone named Janelle Monae. Most, if not all, were marvelous. (And I’m so pleased to see this expansion of the Great American Songbook taking place at the Carlyle and look forward to more.) Here voice was husky and hungry, but also sweet in places an almost always powerful and deeply compelling. I left a convert in a big way. And there’s not a nicer place than the Carlyle to leave that way… that is if you can handle the prices. She will be there through April 18.

Pompie’s Place at Don’t Tell Mama

In a related, but not exactly similar vein, a few nights later I headed over to Don’t Tell Mama in the Theater District to see Hilary Gardner, Lezlie Harrison, and Brianna Thomas starring, backed by Ehud Asherie and his quintet, in Pompie’s Place–what is being called “an immersive pop-up blues supper-club experience.” The book wasn’t much, but boy was the music fun. I went in as a fan of Thomas but came out with a crush on Gardner and mightily impressed by Harrison. The tunes were typical New Orleans fare—the kind of thing you’d hear at a benefit or tribute show—but they were all delivered with verb, aplomb and some serious sex appeal. The band was awesome, especially the dude on reeds. Hosted by Arthur Pomposello, the much-missed ex-host and booking manager of the long-lost Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel, the show runs through May 28. The $65 ticket price includes a three-course Cajun meal, though not the liquor.

David Bromberg and Larry Campbell at the Roulette Theater

Finally, I also headed out to deepest Brooklyn to a place called the Roulette Theater on Atlantic Avenue—a place with wonderful acoustics by the way—to catch a show by two of the greatest living musicians alive, David Bromberg and Larry Campbell. Larry produced David’s recent excellent album, Only Slightly Mad, reviewed here when it came out as an ur-Bromberg album featuring a little bit of everything, but especially wild fiddle-playing, no-nonsense blues guitar and all manner of genre-bending exercises in songwriting and soulful singing. Campbell, together with G. E. Smith, is the sort of the co-president of Northeast Americana music (with T Bone Burnett and Joe Henry serving on the west coast) and enlivens any musical gathering he joins by playing more instruments than I can name. In recent years, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Phil Lesh, Rosanne Cash, Little Feat, Hot Tuna and Levon Helm have all been unable to get by without his services.) Together the two men challenged one another a bit but mostly fooled around with old classics and let their acoustic guitars do most of the talking, (though to be fair, Bromberg’s voice has never been stronger or sounded more stentorian.) Highlights? Well, it was all kind of highlight. And the crowd of old fart Brooklynites, almost entirely male, was most appreciative. Bromberg also played with Dylan—he is heavily featured on the re-released “Self-Portrait” which turned out to be great after all—as well as the Eagles, Ringo, Willie Nelson, and Carly Simon, among others, but he has really mastered the stage as leading man with his funny/serious stories and soulful singing and guitar work. Check out his work if you have not already. You’ll thank me.

Recent Publications of the Library of America

My friends at the Library of America have had a busy spring and the offerings could hardly be more eclectic. First up is Reinhold Niebuhr, Major Works on Religion and Politics, a 960-page volume, edited by his daughter, Elisabeth Stifton. It includes Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic (1929), Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932), The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness (1944), and The Irony of American History (1952), along with a selection of essays, sermons, lectures, prayers and other errata. Niebuhr is one of the few people that Barack Obama, David Brooks and I all admire and even if one didn’t admire him, his role in shaping the ideology of the Cold War US political establishment, such as it was, would make him required reading for anyone seeking to understand this country’s behavior in the postwar period.

Written around the same time, but almost perfectly unrelated is the volume, Ross Macdonald, Four Novels of the 1950s. Some people see MacDonald as the successor to Hammet, Chandler, and Cain. I’m willing to be convinced, especially since writers I like and admire, including

George Pelecanos, and James Ellroy are among his biggest fans. Macdonald would be 100 this year and to celebrate, we get these four Lou Archer novels, described as follows: The Way Some People Die, a twisted journey through Los Angeles high and low, The Barbarous Coast, an exploration of crime and corruption in the movie business, The Doomsters, a breakthrough novel of madness and self-destruction, and The Galton Case, the mythically charged and deeply personal book that MacDonald considered a turning point in his career.” It also includes five pieces in which MacDonald that are both autobiographical and instructional—at least when it comes to crime writing.

Finally, for now, is the box set, The Collected Plays of Arthur Miller, edited by Tony Kushner. America’s greatest playwright is also turning 100 and this three volume, nearly 3,000-page set includes everything. The big ones: All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, A View from the Bridge, After the Fall, Incident at Vichy, The American Clock, Broken Glass, as well as any number of plays and playlets most of us have never heard of, including Miller’s wartime radio dramas and two rediscovered stage plays, rare early works from the 1930s and 40s published here for the first time, and the novella of The Misfits. It’s a beautiful and powerful thing and my guess is that you won’t live long enough to read all of it, but you’ll be glad for the time you spent trying. It’s obviously an awfully handsome gift as well.

One (or two) Sentence (Audio) Book Reviews:

Nick Hornby, Funny Girl (Penguin Audio); This is grade B Hornby, which is not bad at all, but not great. It’s endearing but you needn’t kill yourself if you miss it. Sweet and entertaining—and well-read.

Jonathan Lethem, Lucky Alan and Other Stories (Random House Audio): I’m a big booster of Lethem and think Fortress of Solitude to be one of the best books of the past twenty years, but I found these to be a real disappointment. I even skipped parts of some of them

Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt, The Whites, (Macmillan Audio): This is pretty good Price; not the best, but sturdy and dependable

Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings, (HighBridge Company): This is a terrific book and the audio is an amazing performance read by many people. Given the focus on dialect and language, audio has to be the best way to experience this extraordinary novel, which, if I were giving out Pulitzers this year, would win for fiction. It takes place mostly in Jamaica in the seventies and eighties.

Jo Nesbo, Blood on Snow, (Random House): This is a short thriller, told from the point of view of a sensitive hit man. Short, and only OK…

Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies (MacMillan Audio): Both great, both beautifully read.

Homer, The Odyssy, and The Illiad, (Penguin Audio): What can one say? Do it, if you haven’t done them already or haven’t in awhile, especially given the Fagles translation.

The mail:

Full Name: Eric Engberg

Hometown: Palmetto, Florida


Excellent piece on O’Reilly’s lies and the failure of “Big Media” to make any stink about it. I wrote three different op-eds on the same subject, and submitted them sequentially to the NY Times, W. Post and LA Times. All were rejected. Maybe because it was because I didn’t make the case as well as you do, but it was quite dispiriting. One of the questions I asked in one of those op-eds was, “OK, so it’s asserted by his defenders that O’Reilly is a commentator, not a real anchorman. What would happen to, say, Tom Friedman or Maureen Dowd if they were caught in a series of biographical inventions? Elite journalists would be standing on their desks demanding their scalps for an unconscionable ethical breach. How is O’Reilly different; how is Fox different from a major paper?” And where, when the Falklands lies were first brought to light by Corn, are the voices of “Establishment Journalism.” Starting with the presidents of the Big-3 news divisions and moving down the list of j-school deans, major newspaper executives and the professional societies like the RTNDA and SDX, why the vast silence on a simple question of standards and ethics. I didn’t know about O’Reilly’s Falkland Islands lies until I read the Corn piece. Then I wrote a Facebook item substantiating Corn’s reporting and agreed to do a Stelter interview. I did so because I believe that no journalist can stand idly by when someone invents facts he knews to be false. I was backed up in this by virtually all the CBS people who were in Argentina in 1982, and by George Lewis, who was there for NBC. The rest of the journalism mainstream, with Wemple, Stelter and you as the principle exceptions, was sadly silent. Keep up the good work. Eric Engberg

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